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"Punk in London" and "Punk in England"

Reviewed by Dave Thompson.

by Dave Thompson

Between 1977 and 1979, German director Wolfgang Buld was a familiar sight around the clubs of London, as he set to work documenting the fascinating explosion of new music and energy called punk rock. He was not the only auteur at large, of course, and history has tended to overlook his work a little. These two DVD reissues, however, thrust him firmly back into the spotlight, a visionary filmmaker who allowed his subjects to speak for themselves even as he ensured their contributions would blend into a cohesive whole.

“Punk In London,” documenting a couple of months in early 1977, is the most fascinating, as live footage and some stunningly asinine (or, if we are feeling generous, incredibly naïve) interview material combines to reveal precisely how it felt to be at large at that time. Dramatic onstage footage of The Adverts, Chelsea, X-Ray Spex and The Clash rank among the highlights, while pre-fame glimpses of The Jam and The Boomtown Rats remind us of just how hard it was to predict which bands would truly break out of the pack. In terms of energy, performance and material, it still seems inconceivable that The Adverts (captured here onstage at the London Marquee, albeit with their first 45 dubbed over the live soundtrack) did not establish themselves as immediate superstars — and absurd that The Jam did. And why have so many punk histories forgotten about Wayne County and The Electric Chairs, whose starring role here is unforgettable?

“Punk In England,” shot a couple of years later, is less dynamic, simply because the bands on display were less alluring; great though their records and live shows were, the likes of The Pretenders, Spizz and the upcoming 2-Tone crowd were indicative less of one oncoming surge of humanity as they epitomized the ever-splintering nature of the music industry. But the presence of the immortal Ian Dury and The Blockheads does go some way toward rectifying this, while bonus material spread across the two discs includes several other Buld classics — the “Women In Rock” documentary that examined its subject matter in a somewhat less mealy-mouthed way than most contemporary commentators managed, some astonishing Clash footage and, returning to The Adverts, the five-song performance footage that so enlivened another Buld project, the “Burning Boredom” television movie.

The remainder of that film lies unavailable (and you wouldn’t be missing much if it didn’t), but the concert was spellbinding.